February 29, 2008, - 5:01 pm

Weekend Read – Not “So Ronery” Anymore: Where’s the Outrage Over NY Philharmonics’ Feting of Kim Jong-Il, North Korea?

By Debbie Schlussel
One of the things that angered me most all week was the New York Philharmonic’s trip to Pyongyang, North Korea, this week, to play their music. It’s as disgusting as if they played in Cuba or Saudi Arabia or Iran. It reminds me of the Israelis playing Wagner music. Sickening. Have they no sense of human rights? Do they not care at all about the incredible lack of human rights in North Korea? Do they not care an iota about what Commie dictator Kim Jong-Il is doing to the people of his country? The many innocents he’s murdered?
They just play music, and don’t engage in politics, they claim. Right, “Don’t ask us, we just work here.” Since they’re being used as a propaganda tool, you can be sure they won’t get the treatment U.N. Weapons Inspector Hans Blix got from Kim in “Team America: World Police.”


Kim Jong Il & Hans Blix in “Team America”
But you barely heard a peep about this, especially from the right, which should be all over this disgusting display. One of the few voices that came out against this travesty was the Wall Street Journal’s brilliant Melanie Kirkpatrick. Her piece, “The Sound of Dictatorship,” is right on the money. An excerpt:

Defenders of the New York Philharmonic’s trip to Pyongyang this week like to chant the mantra, “It’s about music, not politics.” If only dictator Kim Jong Il saw it that way. In the context of a totalitarian regime, that’s a naive view, not to say a dangerous one.
In North Korea, the purpose of music, like that of all the arts, is to serve the state. Maestro Kim Jong Il — who in his youth oversaw the transformation of North Korean cinema, opera and performing arts into “revolutionary” forms — understands that mission full well. It remains to be seen how he’ll use the Philharmonic’s concern internally — North Koreans were informed of the visit only on Friday. But performances of international arts groups are routinely portrayed as admiring vassals carrying tribute to the Great Leader, so there’s little reason to think the Philharmonic will rate different treatment. His aim for external consumption is already clear: to give the impression that his barbarous regime is civilized. Look, we even appreciate great Western music played by one of the world’s most eminent orchestras.
For a glimpse into the kind of music that North Koreans are accustomed to hearing, consider the concert that took place 10 days ago at the East Pyongyang Grand Theater, the venue where the Philharmonic tonight will play Gershwin’s “American in Paris” and Dvorak’s “New World Symphony” under the baton of Lorin Maazel. The occasion was the national holiday celebrating Kim Jong Il’s 66th birthday. Among the pieces performed by the State Symphony Orchestra was “The Sound of a Horse’s Hooves on Mt. Paektu.” Paektu is the sacred mountain that Kim hagiographers claim as his birthplace. (In fact he was born in Russia.) Also on the program was Kim’s personal anthem, “No Motherland Without You.” Its lyrics include:
Even if the world changes hundreds of times
People believe in you, Comrade Kim Jong Il!
We cannot live without you.
According to Kim Young-nam, a composer who escaped from the North 10 years ago, songs extolling Kim and his father, “Eternal Leader” Kim Il Sung, are performed far more often than “Aegukka,” the national anthem. . . .
In a telephone call from Seoul, Kim Young-nam describes his training at a music college in a provincial city he prefers not to name for fear of endangering family members and former colleagues. “In every art form in North Korea,” he says, “you have to emphasize the party line and national pride. There is this framework that you have to adhere to. . . . Everything we composed had the goal of extolling Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il. The end production of my work was to praise socialism. . . .The performing arts are merely a means to a political objective.”
Kim Young-nam recalls two friends who were arrested and punished for playing illegal music. One, he says, was a guitarist caught singing a Korean-language version of Frank Sinatra’s hit, “My Way.” The other was a pianist who dared to play Irish music. Disco, tango and jazz, he says, “are banned because anything that would produce a capitalist mindset such as love or indulgence are prohibited.”

Read the whole thing.

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6 Responses

The thing that got me the maddest about this tour was reading about the great emotion felt by Maazel and other members of the orchestra — hopefully there were a few of them who didn’t like what they were doing but were afraid to say anything, but who knows?
What kinds of emotions would they have felt if they had decided to support our troops in Iraq and go there or to Afganistan to boost the morale of those in the military who are fighting for them instead of to the home of our enemy?
As you say, the fawning in the press was just as bad as the trip itself. Some favorable publicity for the orchestra without taking the chance of unfavorable critical reviews that might occur if they went somewhere where people really knew anything about culture. Was there really any chance of unfavorable reviews by No. Korean “critics” who don’t know music from a hole in the wall? A great opportunity for recognition without taking any risks.
It could have been worse though. What if Clueless Condi, who strongly supported the trip had decided to join them on piano:?!?
One political dimension of the trip is to humanize our enemies. It focuses attention on one or two nice violinists, and gives the impression that the whole country is like this, and wants to be friends with the Americans, so why don’t we talk with them, instead of opposing them (as if Bush is really doing that)? It makes people forget, if they ever knew, how No. Korea is working with Iran, Syria, and other enemies of the United States.

c f on February 29, 2008 at 8:03 pm

Cultural exchange is one of the best forms of diplomacy. Talking about this as if the conductor was selling arms to the North Koreans is absurd! If you’re going to try to build the bridges to get the North Koreans into the world stage, merely ignoring the country in the hopes that it goes away won’t help in the slightest, and this is a far cry from diplomatic relations or relaxation of sanctions.
Were cultural exchanges with Russia during the Cold War treated with such disdain?

bma00000 on February 29, 2008 at 11:41 pm

As it happens, Maazel did refer to the NY Philharmonic’s cultural exchange visit to the Soviet “Union” in 1959 as an illustrious precedent for the present tour. The conductor at that time, Leonid Bernstein was the same disloyal American who held a reception in his swanky home for Black Panther cop-killing assassins, and who also supported candidates from a Communist-led political party in 1948. Some cultural exchange!

c f on March 1, 2008 at 2:00 am

I have changed my mind and come to agree with you, DS. We have become no better than sending blond whores to the Saudis hotel rooms. Who is the audience? The privileged perverts that run these countries. They cheer not for the music, but the fact that they have conquered the West on some level. Savagery wins again.

Pat on March 1, 2008 at 10:42 pm

NorKor executed 21 fishermen today that strayed into SoKor waters. That was the crime. All returned home and pledged their allegiance to Kim. Then they were killed.

Pat on March 2, 2008 at 12:49 am

They aren’t dancing to his tune; they are playing to the NK people. The commie tyrants are on the way out; the muslim fascists are on the way in.
Fuck the US media for not publicizing Karzai’s indulgence of the Afghan heroin trade. Billions of dollars are pouring into that drug industry, and taliban gets the same 15% cut that they got when they were in power. The Globe and Mail – citing UN and other statistics reports today that opium production is up 20 times since 2003, when Karzai’s Pashto govt started indulging the druggies. Two million Pakistanis are now hooked on heroin, joining an equal number of Iranians.
The UN website reports that there is an archipelago of heroin factories along the border with Pakistan. There were ZERO factories in 2003.
Canadian soldiers report that every inch of captured land in Kandahar and Helmand District, goes right back to the Taliban the second it is delivered to Karzai’s thieves.
Stop denying that Bush – the moralist who initiated $750,000 fines after Janet Jackson exposed her floppy tits – is indulging an industry that is causing human misery through Asia and Europe.
You know what the Saudis do with OUR money transfers; who the hell needs a rich Taliban? Those same animals who allied with the 9-11 terrorists, are now armed to the teeth; drug rich warlords now direct the trade by use of cellphones. McCain has no chance whatsoever if he stands with Goof#1. Obama’s Black Church Agenda will lead America to ruin, as its enemies are empowered. Bush is a dypso, oil patch brat with a community faith concept of the Islamic murder cult. He is a human perfect storm for national catastrophe.

supercargo on March 2, 2008 at 1:57 am

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